The Department of Justice has sent out a letter reminding states to follow a law passed six months ago that allows military spouses to more easily transfer their job licenses during permanent change of station moves.
Military family advocates and lawmakers told Military.com that the Department of Justice's reminder is necessary as news of the law has been slow to make its way from Washington, D.C., to state and local licensing boards across the country.
"We request that you carefully review the information in this letter and evaluate your practices to ensure compliance with this new federal law," reads the letter, made public in a press release Friday.
President Joe Biden signed the Military Licensing Relief Act into law in January.
Under the new law, which amends the existing Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, state licensing boards must accept valid professional licenses -- with the exception of law licenses -- that service members and spouses received from other states if they moved due to a permanent change of station or on other military orders.
But Kathy Roth-Douquet, the CEO and co-founder of Blue Star Families, a nonprofit that advocates for military families, told Military.com in an interview that the application of the law by state boards is still spotty.
"People live locally, and most people locally don't know about the law that got passed federally, and they may not even know about the law that gets passed at the state level," Roth-Douquet told Military.com. "So, it's just not yet reaching the average person's life."
She said that delays in the information spreading are costing some spouses time and money.
"What we're also finding is that people might hear from a licensing board that they have to re-license, they have to take other tests, or they have to pay a fee, because that local licensing board may not be aware of the law," Roth-Douquet said.
Though the law does not impose any deadlines on state-level agencies, the Department of Justice's letter reminds states that the provision went into effect on Jan. 5, 2023, when President Biden signed the bill into law.
Military spouse unemployment has long been identified as an issue for Defense Department readiness by government officials, with license portability and unnecessary red tape seen as important contributing factors.
In a 2021 Department of Defense survey of active-duty spouses, 48% of respondents "stated that finding employment was one of the most critical problems they experienced during PCS moves," according to the Department of Justice letter. That survey also showed that the unemployment rate for military spouses was 21%, with unemployed spouses spending, on average, nearly five months looking for employment.
Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., was one of the co-sponsors of the Military Licensing Relief Act and called its passage "a win for our military families."
He acknowledged to Military.com in an interview Tuesday that there have been issues implementing it across all states, but noted that licensing boards could find themselves as defendants in a federal lawsuit if they don't comply. He said he expects news of the law to spread through advocacy groups and on bases.
"What we're seeing right now is not necessarily that the states or the boards are actively pushing back on it, it's just that they weren't aware of it," Garcia told Military.com. "And I think once everyone is aware of it, and they realize that they have to comply with it, you'll see higher success rates."